A.C.H.Smith. The Labyrinth. Chapter 18: Seeming

      "Toby," Sarah whispered again, gazing down at the empty cradle.
      Sir Didymus was looking from her face to the cradle. He lifted the blanket and the pillow, searching beneath them, and shook his head. "An exceptionally small knight is Sir Tobias. I cannot even see him."
      "He's gone," Sarah said. "Jareth has taken him."
      The vulture made a dry cackling noise.
      Sarah knew that Jareth would not have abandoned the castle. He had to be here somewhere, and so had Toby. The sole exit from the chamber, apart from the way they had come, was a flight of stairs to one side of the throne. She could not see where it led because the passage turned a corner, but a lovely glowing light was emanating from it. "That's the only way he could have gone," Sarah said.
      She ran toward it, taking care to avoid stepping on the half-gnawed chicken bones, rotting tomatoes, squashed pears, and other garbage that littered the floor. Sir Didymus, Hoggle, and Ludo ran after her.
      "No," she said, when she reached the first stair. She turned around and told her friends, "I... I have to face him alone."
      Sir Didymus, already rehearsing his lunge and parry as he ran, was disconcerted. "Why?" he asked.
      "Because..." It was a good question. "Because that's the way it's done," Sarah replied.
      "Who says?" Hoggle asked.
      "They all do," Sarah told him. "The stories, all of them."
      The three of them regarded her for some time. Seeing the disappointment on their faces, Sarah felt wretched. But she knew that she was right.
      At length, Sir Didymus said, slowly, "Well, if that is the way 'tis done, then that is how thou must needs do it." He raised his staff and squinted along it. "But shouldst thou have need of us..."
      "Yes," Hoggle added, "if you need us..."
      "I'll call," Sarah promised. "Thank you. All of you." She smiled, feeling awkward with gratitude.
      The she turned and ran up the stairs, toward the glowing light.
      It was a long staircase and turned through several angles. She was puffing by the time she reached the top and emerged onto a stone platform. What she saw took all her breath away.
      Above, below, or around her - which, she could not tell - was a vast stone hall, with so many staircases, balconies, windows, and doorways at different heights and odd angles to each other that she had no idea what was up or down, near or far, inside or out, backward or forward. Planes reversed themselves as you watched them, receding corners suddenly jutted out, rising steps inverted themselves, floors became ceilings, and walls turned into precipices. In this room, it seemed that the law of gravity had been repealed, and perspective had seven dimensions. If there had been water, it would have seemed to flow uphill. She felt sick and giddy, and had to cling to a pillar to remain upright. "It's impossible," she whispered to herself. As long as she went on looking at the hall, it went on altering. Does it still go on altering, she wondered dizzily, when no one is looking at it?
      With her back to the wall, she edged along the platform. If I take it step by step, she was thinking, I will get there. If there isa there. She edged along, hoping that it was along and not up or past or through, until she came to a point that she was quite certain was where she had started. Yes, there was the top of the staircase behind her. She began to edge the other way, until she heard a voice from somewhere below. She knew whose voice it was.
      "I've been expecting you," it said.
      With a deep breath, she inched to the edge of the platform. Beyond her, apparently sitting on a vertical wall, was Jareth.
      "Where's Toby?" Sarah asked.
      "He's safe. In my keeping."
      "You're not keeping him."
      "Oh. And why not?"
      "I have come this far. I am here."
      Jareth chuckled. "Sheer luck."
      "I am here. Give me Toby back."
      "You have understood nothing," Jareth told her. "You have answered none of the Labyrinth's riddles. You don't even know what the questions were."
      "That wasn't our bargain."
      Jareth threw back his head and laughed. "There, just as I told you. You have understood nothing."
      "You are wrong. I have come to understand one thing very well. You are just putting on a show of confidence. It doesn't take me in anymore. You are frightened, Jareth."
      "So are you."
      "Yes."
      For a few seconds, they were watching each other's eyes.
      Then Jareth began to move, all over the seven perspectives, and Sarah watched him as he moved. He seemed to walk along ceilings and climb descending stairs. He danced on high walls. And as he moved he called to her, "You are cruel, Sarah. We are well matched, you and I. I need your cruelty, just as you need mine."
      Watching him, Sarah felt her knees start to wobble. She had fallen for his trick. She had no idea now whether she was looking up or down, whether the platform where she stood was solid or void. Everything switched continually, like a photographic negative at an angle to the light. She held her arms out for balance, but it was no good. She stumbled, her head spinning, and felt herself topple. She landed on a ceiling, and tried to adjust her senses. Shakily, she stood up.
      Then she saw Toby. He was crawling up a flight of stairs, still in his striped pajamas.
      "Toby!" she called.
      The baby did not respond.
      "Toby!" she shouted.
      The only answer she got was Jareth's laughter.
      Somehow, she had to reach Toby. She began to work her way down a flight of stairs. A movement below her caught her attention. She peered beneath the stairs and saw Jareth walking parallel to her, apparently upside down, like a reflection in ice. Or maybe she was upside down. She ran to get away from him, to get to Toby. Jareth mirrored her wherever she went. She ran along a balcony, and suddenly he appeared at the far end of it, upright. She turned, ran back, and fell. She landed with a bruising thud. Jareth was watching her, laughing.
      "I will reach him," Sarah said to Jareth.
      Instead of answering, Jareth produced a crystal ball and tossed it up a flight of stairs. Sarah's eyes followed it, and she saw it land near Toby, who was happily climbing on hands and knees up another staircase.
      "Toby!" she cried in alarm.
      The baby was fascinated by the bouncing ball. He reached for it, and when it passed him he scuttled after it. Sarah saw him approaching the edge of a precipitous fall.
      "No!" she called out. "Oh, no! Toby!"
      Toby went over the edge and crawled down the vertical wall, still chasing the ball, which was bouncing around crazily in defiance of all laws of motion.
      Sarah blinked. It was impossible. Jareth laughed.
      She started to follow a line of stairs that went in the direction of Toby. As she drew near him, the baby crawled after the ball in another plane, leaving her stranded. She followed him again, and the same thing happened, and again. He was moving on an axis with which she could not intersect. And everywhere he crawled, he seemed to be at risk of falling from a balcony, or tumbling all the way down a flight of stone stairs.
      Suddenly, Jareth appeared behind her. He laid his hands on her shoulders and spun her around. She was too weak to resist him. His face, as he looked into hers, was amused. It said: It's been a fine game, Sarah, and now it's time to finish playing, because you cannot ever win.
      In the corner of her eye, she saw a small movement. Toby was crawling toward a window ledge. She shrugged Jareth's hands from her shoulders and stared at her brother. There could be no optical doubt about it this time. Outside the window, birds were flying in the sunlight, and Toby was clambering up onto the ledge. Between her and the baby was a vast space of the hall. He was teetering on the ledge now, trying to stand up. She could not run to him, even supposing she were able to find a path to him through the deceiving planes. It was possible, she could not be sure, that he was below her, and that she could reach him with a jump; a jump so deep that she would crack every bone in her body.
      Jareth was smiling triumphantly at her. This was how her quest ended. If he could not keep the baby, nor would she. She watched Toby totter on his precarious perch, and a small cry came from her lips.
      She closed her eyes and jumped.

      When she opened her eyes, she was not sure where she was. It could have been another part of the hall. She thought she recognized it, but could not place it.
      Yet something had changed. Near her was an ogee window, without glass, and through it she could see the upper half of one wing of the castle. It was in ruins, the cladding stones mostly gone, grass growing in the gaps they'd left. The turret roofs had collapsed, and brambles were reaching for the throat of the tower. Within the castle, where she was, she heard in the air the humming that she had come to associate with Jareth, but it had a hollow ring to it, something forlorn, like music in an abandoned house. In the crack between two flagstones where she lay she saw that weeds had started to push their way through. She stood up and looked around. There was no sign of Toby.
      Jareth stepped out from a shadowy archway, wearing a faded, threadbare cloak. His face looked older, drawn. In his blond mane was a trace of gray.
      How long had she been here? She detected no change in herself.
      Jareth was waiting for her with his arms folded. She advanced upon him. "Give me the child," she said.
      He paused before answering. "Sarah - beware. I have been generous until now, but I can be cruel."
      "Generous!" She advanced another step. "What have you done that was generous?"
      "Everything. I have done everything you wanted." He took a pace back, into the shadow of the archway. "You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me. I was frightening."
      Taking another step away from her, he gestured in the air. "I have reordered time," he told her. The thirteen-hour clock had appeared, floating above his head. Its hands were whirling around. "I have turned the world upside down."
      Sarah continued to advance upon him, her arms outreached. He retreated deeper into the shadows.
      "And I have done it all for you," he said with a shake of his head. "I am exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn't that generous? Stay back!" He raised his hands as though to fend her off and took another pace away from her. In a louder voice, he repeated, "Stay back!"
      Sarah's lips were parted. "Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City -"
      "Listen!" said a goblin, one of a nest in a dark corner of the castle.
      Jareth was retreating step by step up a staircase behind the archway.
      Sarah continued to advance, into the archway.
      "- to take back the child you have stolen," she repeated. "For my will is as strong as yours -"
      "Stop!" Jareth raised the palm of his hand to her. "Wait! Sarah, look - look what I can offer you." He raised his left arm and made a large gesture with his hand. A glowing crystal ball appeared in it. He spun it around in his fingers, smiled wanly, and said, "It will show you your dreams. You remember."
      Sarah took another step.
      "- and my kingdom as great -"
      "She's going to say it," a goblin hissed.
      "She's going to say the words," gabbled another, agitatedly.
      The stairs behind Jareth were descending now, and he backed slowly down them as Sarah stood above him. "I ask so little," he said, spinning the crystal. "Just believe in me, and you can have everything you want... everything you have ever dreamed of... your dreams, Sarah..."
      She was frowning, and had halted her advance. "...and my kingdom as great...," she said. "Damn!"
      A goblin shook his head decisively. "That's not it. Never."
      "Sshh!" said another.
      Sarah's fists were clenched white. She was thinking frantically. What were her right words?
      Jareth took a step toward her. He need her belief in him. "Just fear me and love me," he told her in a gentle voice, "and do as I say, and I... I will be your slave." He stretched his hand out toward her, and took another step back up the stairs.
      "Nah." A goblin shook his hideous head. "Doesn't look like it now, does it?"
      Jareth's fingers were close to Sarah's face.
      She stood where she was, and swallowed. "Kingdom as great...," she muttered, "...kingdom as great..." She saw the crystal spinning in his fingers, and felt on her lips the warmth of his outstretched hand. She gasped, and, from some inspired recess of her mind, the words came out, blurted out.
      "You have no power over me."
      "No!" Jareth screamed.
      "No!" the goblins exclaimed, astounded.
      A clock began to strike.
      Jareth tossed the crystal ball up into the air, where it hovered, a bubble. Sarah looked at it, and saw Jareth's face, distorted, on the shifting, iridescent surface. Gently, it drifted down toward her. She reached out fascinated fingers for it and, as she touched the bubble with her fingertips, it burst. A mist of water atoms floated down the air toward Jareth.
      But she saw that Jareth had disappeared. She heard his voice, for a last time, moaning, "Sarah... Sarah..."
      His empty cloak was settling onto the ground. A beam of light picked out a little cloud of dust motes rising from it.
      The clock continued to strike.
      With a last, slow flutter, the cloak lay still. From beneath it, as the clock struck for the twelfth time, a white owl flew out and circled over Sarah.
      Tears were trickling down her cheeks.